Leaders must build relationships with their people and deliver results through their people.
This tension to do both is part of being the best leader possible — and it’s an important theme in the book “Servant Leadership in Action.”
As a huge fan of collaboration, I latched on to this idea early in my career. If you ever worked directly for me, I hope you know that getting to know you was as important as what you could produce in helping the team hit our strategic targets. I like to think of relationships and results as the balancing act leaders should work on daily. These two principles rest on the leadership “teeter-totter,” one on each end of that seesaw; the leader must not give more weight to one over the other.
Is it easy to do? No way! Is it worth the effort? 100% Yes!
In today’s ultra-competitive environment, this approach to leading your team will set you and your company apart. I’m surprised at the number of people I talk with about their company who complain about the “command and control” model of leadership they work under. Didn’t that go out in the 70s? Apparently not. No wonder more than half of the workforce is looking for a new job, according to a Gallup report last year. Poor leadership leads to unhappy employees looking for new employment, and it costs companies worldwide more than $8 trillion a year.
I first saw this more balanced leadership style way back in high school. Mr. Bailey, our junior varsity basketball coach, knew how to build relationships and get results. Our team went 23-3 that year under Mr. Bailey’s coaching. He got to know each one of us as people first. He understood our interests outside of basketball, who our family was, what kind of students we were (he taught history during the day), and our quirks. At ages 16 and 17, what teenage boy doesn’t have an attitude and a few quirks? As he got to know us, he also watched what each of us brought to the basketball court and the team. And then he effectively leveraged our skills and abilities to help us compete at a very high level. Hard work and discipline were part of his coaching style – or method of driving results. It was never win-at-all costs; it was working together and bringing your best effort onto the hardwood every time you stepped on the court.
Those early lessons on building relationships and driving results became part of my leadership playbook.
In credit unions, where I spent much of my career, the mantra is: People serving people. It’s not just a mantra but the foundation for running a top-notch credit union. (Not in the credit union space? Doesn’t matter. Feel free to adopt this people-first mantra for your industry or organization.)
Let’s think of this concept through the lens of servant leadership, which is a kind of love. Go with me on this. Servant leadership starts with this concept of relationships and results. With all the trends and challenges in today’s financial services world, the constant is we are still in the people business.
Building relationships with your staff, suppliers, volunteers, and members (or customers if you are not a credit union) should be at the top of every C-suite leader’s to-do list. This is where love (the verb) shows up in our actions of serving others — being patient, being kind, and putting the needs of others (staff and members/customers) before ourselves. That’s also the servant part.
The leadership part is helping your team deliver results in fulfilling your customers’ hopes and expectations — or in the credit union space, members’ financial dreams. It’s helping your team navigate the maze of technology, AI, regulations, rules, and their expectations to meet the members at what I like to call the moment of truth — when they need us!
The two concepts have to work together in a balanced approach. All relationships and no results mean you’re the nicest person in the world, but you may not have a company to lead with no results to keep the doors open. All results and no relationships probably mean you’ve attained victory, but at what cost to those around you? You may be the only one attending your victory party with that mindset.
Creating, maintaining and leading a “people first” culture takes work. And the results will far outweigh the work when you build relationships AND drive results.